Content? Or production & distribution?

“Are We Ready to Play With Pay? The Content Value Reproposition” by Steve Smith (EContent Magazine, April 2010). As the internet allowed islands of content to drift together, the cost of being an info consuming traveler  fell, drastically. Aside from the benefit of no more dead trees, it doesn’t get any cheaper than free, does it? But now what? How are content providers supposed to survive on a business model based on free?

In the end, Steve’s article inspired the letter below. The stellar news is, the editors of EContent printed it in the July/August 2010 issue. It’s always nice to see the AU State of Mind get more love. Enjoy!

Hello Steve

I just wanted to take a moment and mention that I thought your article was very well done. However, there are two things that I would like to mention:

1) I was surprised you did not make mention of iTunes. About the only thing more ubiquitous than music is air. That said, the general belief is the content (i.e., music) is the loss leader and ol’ Steve J. & Co make their money on the hardware. Maybe “value add” is the model to follow? That is, content providers don’t just publish, but consult, host seminars, etc.

2) Early on you wrote, ” Traditional media made their ad models work because they controlled both the supply and distribution of content around a limited set of brands.” I’m not so sure this is as accurate as it could be. The advantage traditional media once held was for the most part based on production and distribution. Supply had little to do with their advantage. It was the barriers to entry (read: cost) that sustained that biz model. The People have always been willing to self-express and self-publish. It wasn’t until the early 90’s with desktop publishing software and relatively
lost cost copies from Kinko’s did that really become feasible and “mainstream” (in an underground, not quite mass market ‘zine sorta way). Today, even outside of the internet, digital printing is getting
more and more reasonable. And then there’s something like MagCloud that uses the advantages of the internet to let people self publish on demand. In short, the content has always been there.

One step further, I would argue that this is somewhat the problem with traditional media. They are under the belief they were in the content biz. They were not. The reality is, they were in the production
and distribution biz with much of their “content” coming from wire services or just regurgitating the details of events. Today, I would bet for most ball games I can get play by play via Twitter. So why watch the 11 o’clock news? Let alone read the morning paper? Those mediums are slow and costly.

Again, for the most part they have not been “creating” content, just moving it around.

Thanks again for the article.

Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United

Lessons in community building love

“If You Build It, Will They Come?” by Angela Connor (EContent Magazine, September 2009). This article is an excerpt from Ms. Connor’s book “18 Rules of Community Engagement”. First, let’s hit some of the pull quote highlights. Then we’ll finish with some AU commentary.

We are living in the conversation age, where one-way communication is no longer enough. Savvy consumers with infinite choices across the web expect interaction and engagement, and those who can’t deliver will find themselves at the end of the line. What that means is the days of broadcasting your message to the masses and reaping huge benefits are fading fast. The deepest pockets once delivered the biggest audience, but the audience can no longer be bought. It must be earned.

Many businesses and organizations are aware of this fact and have built online communities or have become involved in existing social media platforms to actively listen to and communicate with customers. They understand the power of engagement and recognize the importance of transparency. Others are still in denial, ignoring the conversations and refusing to embrace this new way of communication. However, when the president of the U.S. creates a new office dedicated solely to public engagement, it underscores a fundamental shift in the way we communicate.

Growing a successful online community, for me, has been a trial by fire, and in some aspects it still is. What seems like a great idea can easily flop, and the simplest ideas can resonate with the community in ways you could never imagine, bringing new members in waves and causing participation levels to skyrocket.

If You Build It, Will They Come? The answer, simply, is no! Many organizations and businesses mistakenly believe that if they provide the tools for community engagement and interaction, a community will form on its own and ultimately engage and interact. Nothing could be further from the truth.

While providing the tools does indicate a desire to bring people together, it does nothing to actually make it happen. It takes a different kind of investment to grow a community, and a major portion of that investment is time.

This was published in the Business and Technology section of The Wall Street Journal’s website on July 16, 2008. The headline was “Why Most Online Communities Fail.” According to the article, Ed Moran, the Deloitte consultant who conducted the study, indicated that most of the sites failed to attract visitors because businesses focused on the value the community could bring rather than investing in the actual community.

The key phrase in that statement is “long-term.” Success will not happen overnight, and anything short of a long-term commitment will produce mediocre results.

These differences make the role of a community manager very unique and underscore the importance of having clear goals and knowing what constitutes success.

Without a clear-cut mission, you will find it difficult to reach your goals. General goals such as “reach out to the community and communicate” will only get you so far. What are you reaching out to the community for? What are you communicating about? Those are the questions that have to be answered so you can gauge your success.

“The value lies in the community manager serving as a hub and having the ability to personally connect with the customers (humanize the company), and providing feedback to many departments internally.”

Keep in mind that shared interests bring people in a community together, and online communities can only thrive if people visit regularly and spend a good amount of time when they do visit. And given the fact that no one willingly wastes this precious commodity [i.e., time], it should be a major priority to create experiences that are worthy of their time and make them want to return and give even more of it.

In my book, I will share what I know and some of the things I’ve learned from others while managing the online community, from its infancy to its current status of more than 11,000 members with dozens joining every day.

And now for the AU value add…

Ms. Connor makes a number of excellent points, many of which should be applied beyond the idea of community. For example, time, time is always precious and should be respected. Waste your guests’ time during an interaction — in your store or on your web site — and you’re certain to struggle but save them time and you’ll earn a following.

Next, while the general idea of Community Manager is certainly sound there seems to be a couple tweaks in order. First, as minor as it might sound, the title of Community Manager itself should be changed. Assigning  someone to “manage” a community seems to  be counter to the foundation of  many of Ms. Connor’s ideas. In short, words matter (because they are the building blocks of ideas). For example, Community Facilitator would a step in the right direction. Certainly there are others.

The other issue with Community Manager is, why have just one? Why have all your eggs in one basket and risk losing your center if that person leaves or isn’t the right fit? It would make more sense to spread that assignment across as many people are possible. Why not eat the elephant one bite at a time instead of trying to swallow it whole?  Having “behind the scenes” staff seems counter productive to the idea of community.  Getting everyone out front and involved will help keep everyone engaged and focused on the goal(s) of the team.

Finally, Ms. Connor finishes with a comment about the size of The question is, is that good? Did they meet their goals or not? The other issue is, is size really the ultimate measurement of success? Maybe it’s another chapter in the book but further discussion on various useful measurements of a community seems to be in order, as well as how those might change as the community grows.

p.s. Did anyone else notice the irony that a male, Martin Read, is the founder of Female Forum?

Less news isn’t bad news

Time for some shameless self-promotion…

“News Unfit for Print” by Michelle Manafy (EContent Magazine, May 2009). The article dates back to May but what’s new is that EContect printed an AU submitted letter. Please take a moment to read what we thought and they printed. Ironically, EContent does not post printed letters on their web site.

This is my first issue of eContent and so far I like it. It’s definitely of the same quality as the other Info Today publications I read. With regards to your latest Edit This: “News Unfit for Print”, I’d like to share a couple thoughts with you (and Dennis).

I’d make the “argument” that it’s actually the true media companies that are succeeding. On the other hand, the companies and organizations that see themselves as being “newspapers”, or “television broadcasters”, etc. are the ones who are being hurt by their own archaic mind-set. Until those traditionalists realign themselves with how the market see them, they will continue to struggle. And rightfully so; where’s the surprise?

The pull quote said, “In this collapse of the media business, the ensuing news vacuum will need to be filled.” Please excuse my tone but… Pardon me, what vacuum? It is actually the ubiquitous availability of information that has destroyed the market’s need for printed / televised word. Just because less people are getting the paper or watching the news does not mean they are not keeping informed. The only vacuum I’ve seen is in the minds of traditional media companies’ and how it effects their ability to meet the needs of the market.

Thanks again for eContent. I’m looking forward to the next issue already.

Hoist a new flag,
Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United

There is one additional point I’d like to add in regards to the current state of traditional news outlets. The majority of the time it’s difficult to tell if they are trying to inform me or entertain me. Between the interviews overflowing with softball sized questions to the “it’s on Twitter so it must be true” insights there’s hardly any value added and  little true news disseminated.

It’s odd that these brands wish to be taken seriously as news sources yet devote so little energy to spin-free, honest and insightful news. They want to talk the talk but they don’t want to walk the walk. That’s fine, they just shouldn’t be shocked that they’re losing a battle to their (market defined) equals.

The bottom line… If you want real news then watch, listen and/or read the BBC News.

Food for content thought. Or is it content for food thought?

“The Triangle of Content Success” By Jaka Lindic (eContent Magazine, May 2009).  eContent is a new addition to our reading meals and thus far the bit of extra time invested has paid back two or three fold. Like fine dining for the mind. Mr. Lindic’s article doesn’t answer many questions but it’s purpose is to provide scope as well as a general overview of the current state of the content art. In that case he’s right on target. Good stuff. And more proof that guests expect more than “just a web site”.